February 18, 2021
Urban Informatics: From Pre- to Post-COVID
Abstract: Urban informatics is an inherently civic field–using data and technology to better understand and serve communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has put this mission in stark relief, calling on researchers and analysts to use their skills to track infections, highlight inequities, forecast impacts, and offer solutions for building back smarter. Prof. O’Brien will illustrate how this history of a civically-oriented approach to data and technology provides a unique opportunity to contribute in this moment by discussing the efforts of the Boston Area Research Initiative, which convenes researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and local leaders to use data and technology to advance equity, democracy and justice in 21st communities. The talk will summarize a research-policy partnership with the City of Boston’s 311 system on how government and neighborhoods collaboratively maintain public spaces, or “the urban commons.” It will then describe BARI’s more recent pivot to coordinate multiple data sources to fully understand the wide array of inequities in the impact of the pandemic across the city’s neighborhoods, from ability to social distance to economic disparities to housing and evictions to vaccination intentions. Please join us to learn more about this work and how it provides a model of what urban informatics has been and can be.
Dr. Daniel T. O’Brien is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. His primary expertise is in the use of modern digital data sets to better understand urban processes, particularly the social and behavioral dynamics of neighborhoods. He is Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative, in which capacity he has worked extensively to build effective models of research-policy collaboration that help us to better understand and serve cities. His book The Urban Commons (2018; Harvard University Press) captures the intersection of his scholarly and institutional efforts, using the study of custodianship for neighborhood spaces and infrastructure through Boston’s 311 system to illustrate the potential of cross-sector collaborations in urban informatics.